A TRADE deal with the EU can still be reached despite significant divisions remaining, Downing Street insisted. The seventh round of talks starts on Tuesday as negotiators scramble to secure an agreement ready for when the Brexit transition arrangements end. Clashes over fishing and so-called level playing field rules that will keep Britain tied to the EU led to discussions in July ending in deadlock. No 10 insisted the Government will continue to work at ways to “plug the gaps” in the potential deal. “There are many issues that will be discussed during this week’s round, not least level-playing field, fisheries, trading goods and services amongst others,” a spokesman said. “There are many areas where there is convergence but we will continue to work to plug the gaps where any differences remain. “Our assessment is that a deal can still be reached in September.” Brexiteers say Brussels is failing to treat the UK as an independent sovereign nation by continuing to demand the UK follows EU standards in return for continued access to the single market – as well as insisting on the same fishing rights it already has.
The UK still believes it can agree a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU next month, according to Downing Street. The PM’s spokesman said UK negotiators would “continue to plug the gaps” as negotiations enter their seventh round in Brussels on Tuesday. The two sides remain divided over competition rules, fishing rights and how a deal would be enforced. The UK has ruled out extending the December deadline to reach an agreement. This week’s talks are the last scheduled negotiating round ahead of the autumn, although both sides have previously said talks would continue in September. After the last round in London, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the UK had not shown a “willingness to break the deadlock” over difficult issues.
THE SEVENTH ROUND of the EU-UK future relationship negotiations are beginning this week, with sector-specific negotiations on Wednesday and Thursday. The full agenda for 18th-21st August negotiations can be found here. Wednesday’s discussions will include negotiations on the ‘level playing field’, horizontal arrangements and governance, trade in goods, law enforcement and judicial cooperation, mobility and social security cooperation, participation in union programmes, and transport. Thursday’s discussions will include the level playing field, fisheries, trade in services and investment, law enforcement and judicial cooperation, energy, mobility and social security cooperation, and governance (for aviation and social security cooperation).
BRITISH fishermen have vowed to reclaim total control over UK waters, sparking panic in EU countries as the Brussels free-for-all finally comes to an end. Post-Brexit fishing rights is a particularly contentious topic in the current trade negotiations with the EU, with Boris Johnson insisting the UK must regain control over its waters. But Brussels is determined to cling to the current set-up, which allows European trawlers significant access to British waters. Currently, EU fishermen catch around three times as much fish in British waters than UK trawlers catch in other EU sea areas. As a result, British fishermen, the vast majority of which heavily backed Brexit, are keen to regain control of UK waters and stop EU trawlers having priority.
Gavin Williamson blamed the exam regulator for the chaos surrounding A-level results as he announced a climbdown following a backlash from Tory MPs. The Education Secretary apologised for the fiasco, which saw close to 40 per cent of school leavers marked down by an algorithm, and said all A-level and GCSE students would now be given their teachers’ predicted grades. His announcement came after 24 hours of mounting pressure from Tory backbenchers, who claimed he had lost the confidence of the teaching profession and should resign. On Monday night, Mr Williamson – who on Saturday had insisted there would be “no U-turn, no change” – refused to comment when asked whether he had offered to resign, but appeared to signal that he held the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) responsible.
Gavin Williamson has tried to lay the blame for the exams fiasco at the door of the regulator Ofqual after a humiliating climbdown that overturned up to 2.3m grades but left thousands of pupils in limbo. Two days after saying there would be “no U-turn, no change”, the education secretary apologised and ordered a complete reversal whereby pupils in England will be able to revert to the A-level grades recommended by their teachers, if those are higher. “I am sorry for the distress this has caused young people and their parents, but hope this announcement will now provide the certainty and reassurance they deserve,” Williamson said.
Tens of thousands of pupils are still facing doubt over their futures as universities rushed to find them places after a government U-turn on grades. Gavin Williamson announced yesterday that all A-level and GCSE results would be based on teachers’ predictions as he apologised to children, parents and schools. The education secretary said that he was “sorry for the distress this has caused” after the government abandoned the system for awarding grades by a computer algorithm. Universities called in lawyers to assess their obligations to 55,000 pupils who missed out on their first choices last week and have signed up to other universities, but may now have good enough grades to be accepted.
Universities admissions chaos is predicted as Oxford and Cambridge colleges face having to let down over 1,500 students. The Education Secretary’s U-turn on results, whereby students will now be awarded their teachers’ predicted grades if they are higher than the grades they dealt by the algorithm, left universities scrambling to redraw their admission plans for this year. Gavin Williamson also announced that student number caps – which had been brought in this year as a temporary measure to “stabilise” admissions and prevent institutions from poaching students from their rivals – would now be axed. Experts warned that universities will now be overwhelmed by applicants who have met the conditions of their offer and are expecting a place.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has failed to guarantee every pupil will get the uni place they were offered – even if they now have the right grades. It came as he announced that he would lift the cap on the number of places a university can offer in order to help some pupils who had missed out. But asked during a press conference if he could give those who were told last week that they’d not got in to their top choice a guarantee they’d now get the place Mr Williamson said: “We’re already working very closely with the university sector to make sure that we do everything we can do to build as much capacity in there. “We expect universities to be flexible, we expect them to go above and beyond, to honour those commitments. “But we also recognise, that’s why today we’ve lifted student number caps in order for universities to be able to expand and put extra capacity into the system.”
Universities are preparing to deal with a rise in calls from students after ministers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales said A-level grades could now be based on teachers’ assessments. Pupils who were rejected from universities last week on the basis of grades downgraded by an algorithm may now be able to revisit their choices. But universities are warning there is a limit to what they can do. Monday’s U-turn followed an outcry from students, teachers and some Tory MPs. About 40% of A-level results were downgraded by exams regulator Ofqual, which used a formula based on schools’ prior grades.
Tens of thousands of students face a scramble to secure a place at their chosen university despite the government’s A-levels climbdown, as vice-chancellors warned that they would not be able to honour all their original offers. University admissions were thrown into chaos when the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced that last week’s A-level results were being scrapped in favour of centre-assessed grades (CAGs) submitted by schools earlier this year. Many students whose results were downgraded by the government’s algorithm and as a result lost out on places at their first-choice university will be seeking to retrieve their place now they have grades that meet admissions requirements. But the decision has piled pressure on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. It has said that just under 70% of 18-year-old applicants across the UK were already placed with their first-choice university, but others who were forced to accept their “insurance” offer or go into clearing would now be entitled to try to improve their options.
Gavin Williamson was branded a ‘lame duck’ Education Secretary last night as senior Tories urged him to quit over the exams fiasco. MPs believe he will ultimately get the boot when the Prime Minister reshuffles his Cabinet this autumn. But former ministers insisted he should go now, saying his position was ‘completely untenable’. One added: ‘He can’t hang around until autumn. He is a lame duck now.’ Tory MP George Freeman called the situation a ‘shambles’, saying: ‘Ultimately, the Prime Minister is in charge. ‘And I think he will want to take firm control of this and get a grip and show his Government is taking the life chances of a generation of children seriously.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he won’t resign despite his spectacular U-turn over exams results. In a shocking admission Mr Williamson admitted he hadn’t understood the scope of the problem until Saturday – days after parents and pupils had led protests into the debacle. It is the second time Mr Williamson’s position in the Cabinet has been in jeopardy in two years. Boris Johnson revived his position as a top minister last year after the last prime minister, Theresa May, dismissed Mr Williamson as defence secretary for allegedly leaking security discussions. But there are already murmurings that he should again be ousted for Monday’s climb-down to base grades on teachers’ assessments in England rather than a controversial algorithm.
In the run up to the 2019 election, then Shadow Education Secretary and now Deputy Leader of the Labour Party announced plans to scrap the “deeply unfair” system of teachers predicting grades. The party not only noted how inaccurate the predictions were, but also their discrimination. As the BBC reported last summer: “Black applicants had the lowest percentage accuracy with only 39.1% of grades accurately predicted, while white applicants had the highest grade prediction accuracy at 53%.” Rayner argued that disadvantaged students were particularly disadvantaged by teacher predictions, saying in a press release that “predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions.”
Top Italian and European Union officials are holding talks in Tunisia on Monday to try to stem the growing numbers of migrants crossing from the North African country to Europe. Tunisia’s president, whose young democracy is struggling economically, said he wants the talks to focus not only on security measures to curb migration but also on broader European aid to fight the poverty and joblessness that fuels it. The number of migrants leaving Tunisia has grown as much as fivefold this year compared to last year, for a total of about 5,700 people, according to estimates from the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights, an aid group following migration flows. More migrants landing in Italy now came from Tunisia than departed from neighboring lawless Libya, according to Italian government figures released Saturday. A total of 16,347 migrants reached Italian shores over the past year, a 149% increase compared to the previous 12-month period, but still a number much lower than in several other recent years.
THE Leicester lockdown is set to finally be lifted today – seven weeks after it started. The city became the first in Britain to face local restrictions, after an alarming rise in Covid-19 cases. Currently, residents are banned from meeting people from different households in their homes and gardens. Gyms and wedding ceremonies are also off limits for the city’s residents. Tough measures were first introduced in late June to halt Covid-19, as the bug spread through food and clothing factories, and households. But with cases now falling, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to ease the majority of restrictions. Officials held a review of the Leicester data on Monday – but the announcement was delayed by a late blip in the figures.
The city of Leicester will finally have its lockdown restrictions eased nearly two months after becoming the first localised lockdown, it has been reported. Seven weeks ago Leicester was put into lockdown after an alarming rise in coronavirus cases. It became one of the first cities to face local lockdown restrictions, at the same time that restrictions across the rest of England were eased. The current situation in the city prevents residents from meeting people from different households in homes or gardens. However, with cases now getting under control – Health Secretary Matt Hancock is believed to be ready to announce an easing of the measures. A No 10 spokesperson has said the measures are “under constant review”.
Leicester is set to have its lockdown relaxed today just seven weeks after seeing the rate of coronavirus infections fall. The city in the East Midlands, which became the first in the UK to be put into a local lockdown after witnessing a spike in Covid-19 cases, will see a majority of its restrictions eased by health secretary Matt Hancock. The move comes as public health officials warned that Birmingham could soon be added to the list of cities being placed on the local lockdown list after seeing cases double.
The tightest coronavirus curbs in some parts of the North could be lifted this week, we can reveal. Around 4.5 million people in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire were hit with a fresh clampdown more than two weeks ago as officials tried to contain Covid spikes. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham believes rules banning people from mixing with other households – apart from support bubbles – in homes or gardens will be relaxed. He said: “Hopefully, we will begin to see some people getting released. “If things stay as they are I think it is likely that we would see a change.”
The NHS is preparing to spend up to £10 billion in private hospitals over four years in an effort to bring waiting lists down. The figure emerged in a contract notice amid growing concerns about what delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment will mean for patients. The outsourced work aims to cut waiting lists, which are forecast “to increase as a result of Covid-19 interrupting and reducing NHS capacity”. It will include testing and imaging and inpatient and outpatient treatment for urgent planned care and cancer treatment. NHS figures released last week showed that 50,000 people had been waiting more than a year to begin treatment — the highest level for a decade.
The race to produce the first fully licenced vaccine to protect against the new coronavirus may come down to a playoff between teams in England and Germany. Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, the body in charge of the UK’s vaccine strategy, said on Monday that two groups – one in Oxford and one in Mainz, Germany – were running head to head and may yet see their immunisations approved before the end of December. “I think we have a shot of getting a vaccine this year,” Ms Bingham told Sky News. “There’s two potential candidates, one would be the Oxford candidate and the other one is the German vaccine from BioNTech.” These candidates are among six the UK has already ordered (with a total of 340 million doses) as a means of hedging its bets against candidates returning poor data in phase three trials.
The Scottish government has refused to hand over significant legal papers to a Holyrood investigation into the handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, claiming they are too sensitive to disclose. John Swinney, the deputy first minister, told the specially convened Scottish parliament committee that the government would withhold its papers on the former first minister’s legal action against it, its own legal advice and key documents from its internal inquiry. Opposition MSPs on the committee are furious, accusing the government of sabotaging the investigation and muzzling civil servants. They are now considering applying to court for legal papers to be released and could invoke a clause in the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to compel the disclosure of government documents and to compel witnesses to appear. The committee inquiry will start hearing oral evidence on Tuesday by calling Leslie Evans, the Scottish government’s permanent secretary, who oversaw a botched internal inquiry into two historic sexual harassment complaints against Salmond launched in early 2018. Salmond denied the allegations.
A FRESH independence row erupted tonight after Nicola Sturgeon said that denying Scotland a second referendum would be impossible if the SNP won a fourth term in power. The First Minister believes the election will be “without question, the most important in Scotland’s history” and an SNP victory would represent a record term in power. She says voters will be presented with a “stark choice” between her party and the “utterly regressive” Conservatives in the May 2021 Holyrood ballot. But Whitehall has dismissed the suggestion stressing that Boris Johnson made clear there “wouldn’t be a second referendum”. Ms Sturgeon highlighted the SNP manifesto for the election will include a commitment to hold a second Scottish independence referendum.
China has developed an airborne munitions dispenser that critics claim is actually a banned cluster bomb, according to reports. The hybrid weapon can reportedly release hundreds of submunitions capable of paralysing large areas. It is so powerful it can even paralyse an entire airfield in one shot by destroying enemy planes or grounding them, reports suggest. It weighs 500kg and is said to be a cross between an air-to-ground missile and a guided bomb droppable by aircraft. The weapon is made by the China Ordnance Industries Group Corporation Limited, officially abbreviated as Norinco, a state-owned defence corporation that manufactures a diverse range of civil and military products. China Central Television (CCTV) said that its design can also reduce the weapon’s radar cross-section, enhancing its stealth capability.